Sam met Joe where their front sidewalks met. Each man stick-handled his shovel to clear the last remnant of snow. Sam smiled as he won, and Joe threw his shovel into the snow bank in good-natured disgust.
“You guys ready for Christmas?” asked Joe.
“Nah. Never are. Always more work than time for it.”
Sam leaned on his shovel as Joe retrieved his.
“Well, got time for a coffee at least?” asked Joe. “Don’t we deserve a rest after all our hard work?”
“Best suggestion I’ve heard all day.”
“I’ve got the place to myself for an hour or so—”
“And mine are all out shopping, or skating, or something!” added Sam.
The men propped their shovels at the front door, and Joe brewed the coffee. The aroma of Jill’s Christmas baking that morning still warmed the atmosphere. Sam breathed it in.
“This place looks peaceful after all the cooking Jill must have done,” he remarked.
Joe looked around a surprisingly tidy kitchen. “Ah! Peace amid the storm. Gotta have some of that; after all, Christmas is a time when Christ came to bring peace.”
Joe poured coffee while Sam pondered a reply. Sam enjoyed Joe and his wife, Jill; they were great neighbours even if they were religious. Joe placed the coffees on the table, pushed cream and sugar towards Sam and sat across from him. Sam idly stirred sugar liberally into his drink.
“Huh! Peace?” Sam stared into his coffee. “If Christ came to bring peace, He’s not accomplished much in the last 2000 years.” He looked up at Joe. “Joe, I respect your faith an’ all that, but really, I have to consider the whole idea a pipe dream, a fanciful superstition that one day we’ll have a happy ending and all live happily ever after.”
“And why do you think conflict continues in the world?”
“Because nations can’t live together.”
“Like neighbours on the street?”
Sam grimaced. “Yeah. Guess so. In fact, my other neighbour and his wife fight all the time!”
Joe nodded and took a long sip of coffee.
“Sorry to hear that’s still going on,” he responded. “Those two don’t appear to be at peace with themselves.”
Sam recalled encounters with them. “You know, they’ve always got a gripe about something. Even alone, they don’t seem happy.”
“You know, for me, the problem of conflict—whether international or interpersonal—starts with us. We can’t be at peace with others unless we are at peace with ourselves.
“Conflict with ourselves?” That seemed like a contradiction to Sam.
“Yes. Conflict within us caused by unresolved guilt.”
Sam thought that a bit of a broadside. That may be true of my neighbours; they treat each other badly. But it hardly applies to me. “Joe, you can’t apply that to everyone. I’ve nothing to feel guilty about, and I’m sure you and Jill haven’t either.”
“Not true, Sam.”
Sam raised his eyebrows, but his eyes sparkled. “Okay, you’re going to confess all your secret sins to me?”
Joe grinned. “We all have skeletons in our closets; things we regret from our past. But even in everyday living, I’m conscious of failures and bad responses—even to Jill! Guilt is not necessarily what we feel, but a nagging subconscious that unknowingly infects our attitudes and
“Hold it Joe. You’re going over my head. But I admit I don’t keep my own standards sometimes; we all don’t.”
“That’s where my faith comes in. I recognize my wrong thoughts and actions are primarily against God, and then against others. We must seek reconciliation with those we hurt, but our God-given conscience won’t rest until we seek God’s forgiveness and find peace with Him.”
“Are you saying we need peace with God before we can be at peace with ourselves?”
“Sam, have you been reading my Bible? It says that ‘since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ That’s the peace the angels announced and it’s the key to peace within ourselves and with others.”
“Okay Joe. You’re going too fast for me again. You know I’m not religious, and all this God talk leaves me confused. I’ve always believed I’m better off without it.”
Joe drained his coffee and leaned back in his chair. “Another cup?”
“Sure. Give me a simple, short explanation; you know, something I can put on a bumper sticker. Remember, I’m part of the sound-byte generation!”
Joe poured two more coffees and leaned across the table, his hands shaping his words.
“Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross so God could forgive us. When we really believe that, we have peace with God, and we can be at peace with ourselves. That in turn changes the way we see others; we cannot harbour offence against others when God freely forgives us at such great cost.”
Sam finished his coffee, and placed the cup slowly on the table. He looked intently at Joe.
“Thanks Joe for that explanation. I see what motivates you, and I have something to think about.”
He rose from the table and Joe walked him to the door.
“Thanks for the coffee, Joe—and the sermon!”
They both grinned and shook hands.